On the Titans’ seventh play from scrimmage Friday, Patriots rookie Marte Mapu flew up from his safety position to make a tackle over the middle.
Of course he did.
Mapu spent most of this summer hunting receivers and ball carriers in a red, non-contact jersey as he recovered from February surgery to fix a torn pectoral muscle. During team periods at practice, he would sprint to stop the ball and then … halt himself. He needs more live reps.
Mapu didn’t engage in full-contact drills until a week ago at Green Bay, where he participated in joint practices but sat out the preseason game. His game-day drought ended Friday in Tennessee. Over 33 defensive snaps in the Pats’ preseason finale, Mapu missed two tackles on six attempts. Over time, a 33% missed tackle rate would drop any NFL defender on the street.
But not Mapu. He’s a rookie brimming with potential and intrigue, a hybrid linebacker/safety the Patriots seem intent on shoehorning somewhere and sometime into their veteran-laden defense. Over one series Friday, Mapu bounced between strong safety, free safety and linebacker. He also played deep zone as a single-high safety, covered a deep half in two-deep coverage, the flat, short middle and tight ends in man-to-man coverage.
What comes next?
His Week 1 role remains unclear for reasons mentioned above. The Pats are stacked at safety, content with Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai at off-ball linebacker, and Mapu needs to wrap up. He’ll get there.
Elsewhere, two other Patriots defenders may have forced themselves onto the roster, a young O-lineman showed out and Bailey Zappe’s bad, bizarre summer continued. Here are the Herald’s complete film observations from Friday’s loss at Tennessee:
- Any time an offense gains 79 yards on 42 plays it means virtually no one played well, but especially the quarterback.
- Zappe did contend with two drops and pressure on roughly one-quarter of his pass attempts, but no player can fumble three times like he did. On bad offensive days, the quarterback’s chief responsibility becomes protecting the ball. He failed.
- Zappe also completed as many passes behind the line of scrimmage as he did downfield. He averaged 3.5 yards per attempt on non-screen, which says virtually all you need to know about how the Pats’ passing game functioned.
- On the pressure front, Zappe began bailing from the pocket prematurely after his initial strip-sack. He’s struggled with sacks and batted passes all summer, though Friday’s performance was fairly understandable recognizing the ragtag offensive line in front of him.
- The Patriots’ running back rotation indicated what’s been evident for weeks in practice: Kevin Harris is ahead of Pierre Strong Jr., who played deep into the second half. J.J. Taylor, a staple of the Pats’ practice squad for three years running, is a more dynamic runner than both of them.
- Sixth-round rookie receiver Kayshon Boutte played just three snaps. He’s making the team.
- As for Malik Cunningham, he finished the preseason with one catch on nine targets. If he makes the 53-man roster, it will be because of what he showed as a potential No. 3 quarterback, not as a wideout.
- Left guard Chasen Hines allowed one sack, but also delivered two of the night’s best blocks. He hustled out as the lead blocker on a screen in the first quarter that sprung Taylor for 10 yards, then cleared the way for Harris to score a touchdown in the second quarter.
Patriots’ Kayshon Boutte earns praise after conspicuous lack of playing time
- It’s hard to see a path to the 53-man roster for third-string tight end Matt Sokol. He’s not nearly impactful enough as a blocker to make it on that skill alone, and he dropped a first-quarter pass.
- Three plays after right guard Riley Reiff left with an injury, his replacement, former defensive lineman Bill Murray, allowed a hurry. He later let up a sack, highlighting how badly the Patriots need their top O-linemen to return.
- Broken tackles: J.J. Taylor 2, Malik Cunningham
- Drop: Matt Sokol, Thyrick Pitts
- Sacks allowed: Andrew Stueber 2, Chasen Hines, Bill Murray
- QB hits allowed: None
- Hurries allowed: Stueber 2, Murray 2, Team
- Run stuffs allowed: Team, Matt Sokol
- Penalties: Team (illegal formation)
- Jack Jones’ extended playing time further indicates the Patriots are hoping to keep him game-ready in light of his uncertain future with the league (possible suspension or placement on the commissioner’s exempt list) and legal system.
- Jones’ night was packed with highs and lows: he helped generate two tackles for loss on running plays, but also got stiff-armed to the ground and whistled for an obvious pass interference penalty.
- Linebacker Mack Wilson is quietly on the bubbly and started Friday on the edge, where he knocked back a Titans tight end to stop a short run. Wilson is best off the ball, but has flashed this summer as an edge rusher and edge-setter.
- Another bubble candidate, second-year defensive lineman Sam Roberts, capped a roller-coaster summer in the same fashion. Robberts tallied a sack, two QB hits, and a hurry, but also showed a lack of discipline letting Titans quarterback Malik Willis escape outside the pocket in the first quarter and losing the edge again versus a second-quarter run that covered more than 20 yards.
- Like Roberts, if linebacker Calvin Munson makes the team, he might point to Friday’s performance as what pushed him across the finish line. Munson posted 10 tackles and grabbed an interception.
- A strong send-off for Ronnie Perkins (three hurries) ended with bitter disappointment as he left with an injury. Perkins, a 2021 third-round pick, projects as a strong candidate for the practice squad.
- The Patriots would surely like to stash third-year cornerback Shaun Wade, who made two starts at free safety this preseason, on their practice squad but his positive tape may prevent that. Wade has made impressive strides this summer after being a healthy scratch most of last year.
Callahan: The Patriots’ preseason finale shouldn’t dampen a successful summer
- Interceptions: Calvin Munson, Joe Giles-Harris
- Forced fumble: Diego Fagot
- Pass breakups: None
- Sacks: Daniel Ekuale, Sam Roberts
- QB hits: Roberts 2, Ronnie Perkins, Carson Wells
- Hurries: Perkins 3, Jeremiah Pharms 3, Anfernee Jennings, Carl Davis, Justus Tavai
- Run stuffs: Team, Anfernee Jennings, Jack Jones
- Missed tackles: Marte Mapu 2, Rodney Randle Jr. 2, Calvin Munson 2, Joshuah Bledsoe, Ameer Speed, Jack Jones, Jennings, Roberts, Perkins, Pharms
- Penalties: Jack Jones (defensive pass interference), Justus Tavai (offside), Team (too many men on the field)
- Linebacker Calvin Munson repped with the top punt return and kick return units, while rookie Ameer Speed played on all four units. Of the players who suited up Friday, they project as the Patriots’ next most likely core special teamers.
- The Patriots finished the preseason without a field goal attempt from either kicker, fourth-round rookie Chad Ryland or veteran Nick Folk, which could complicate their decision at the position.
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